All posts by Chris Thorne

Have had this dream of owning my own boat and sailing around the world for almost as long as I can recall - I now have the boat, so let's see how far we get!

Mesolongion

So with our revised courses set for the Corinth Canal we left Vathi at just after 7 in the morning on the 17th.    Our first stop was to be in the harbour of Mesolongion on the north side of the Gulf of Patras about 40 miles, or 8 hours, from Ithaca.

… i know, but I like it ….

We left Vathi in rather damp and overcast weather and it never really brightened up.   The ‘highlight’ of an otherwise uneventful crossing was that I actually managed to fly the Chute again for just under an hour.   We arrived in Mesolongion at just before 3 pm.

Mesolongion is a rather isolated place on the edge of the mud banks and salt flats that fringe this coast.   Its claim to fame is that Lord Byron died here in 1824 whilst trying to assist the Greeks in their War of Independence from Turkey.   The harbour is a large ‘lagoon’ of sorts reached via a narrow channel about 1 mile long.   The town is about a kilometre inland from the harbour but is not a must see destination by any stretch of the imagination.  There is a statue to him in town but apparently little else.  The harbour itself is rather desolate with a commercial quay in one corner and a small but rather tired looking marina in the other.   However, it is a safe anchorage for the night a convenient ‘day passage’ from Ithaca, and surprisingly picturesque in the evening!

We plan to be off first thing in the morning for 35 mile trip into the Gulf of Corinth to the island of Trizonia off the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth.

Vathi, Ithaca

We left the anchorage in Port Atheni on Meganisi early on Monday morning in order to reach Vathi on the island of Ithaca just after lunch, so avoiding some afternoon adverse winds.

Our 20 mile trip across started in flat calm conditions but by mid morning we had sailable winds from behind us and so I dragged out the Cruising Chute and gave it an airing.  But that was all it got, the wind took one look at it and dropped away to nothing!   Once the Chute was down the wind picked up from the port bow and we actually sailed under plain sails for the last hour or so until we reached Vathi.

Vathi

Vathi is the main port on Ithaca and is at the head of a large sheltered bay on the east side of the island.   It has a Town Quay but you can also anchor in the bay, which is what we did.   Our intention was to spend a day or so here waiting for an opportunity to move south when the wind changed.   Unfortunately, when it did change it would have got us down to the bottom of the Peloponnese just in time to meet a blow coming from the east.   This would have kept us hiding down there for who knows how long waiting for more favourable winds.   So on Wednesday we decided that heading south was not an option and that we would instead use the Corinth Canal again.  This is not a cheap option but we wouldn’t be spending money on diesel motoring round the Peloponnese, apparently it is 135 miles shorter!  We also wouldn’t have the aggravation of waiting for possible ‘weather windows’.   Instead we’ll spend a couple of days exploring the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth.

So we had 3 night anchored off Vathi.  As with most towns in the area it suffered badly in the earthquake in 1953 and so is fairly ‘new’.   It is quite a big town and is spread around the bay and the brightly painted make it very picturesque.  It is pretty busy with yachts and is a regular haunt of charter fleets heading for the apparently free Town Quay.    The town is quite lively and there are numerous tavernas along the quaysides and more in the side streets.   In amongst these are a lot of boutique type tourist shops, in addition to the odd bakery, fruit and veg shop and even a small chandler.   It is a busy place and seems to come alive in the evening. We had dinner ashore on Monday and had a wander around town on Tuesday before a leisurely dinner and drinks.   On Wednesday we stocked up on fresh food and I visited the Archaeological Museum.   Ithaca was the home of Odysseus and ruins above Port Polis on the west coast are the remains of his palace.  The museum though is a small affair displaying pottery and some coins found at various sites around the island but it was free and an interesting way to spend 20 minutes.

Our stay in Vathi was pleasant despite the uncertainty with the weather and our sudden change of plans.  However; it does mean that when we arrive in the Cyclades our first island will now be Kithnos.   This will put us almost a week ahead of ‘schedule’ but will mean missing Milos, Sifnos and Serifos.  On the plus side, we may get to catch up with ‘Scarlett’.

Vhliko and Port Atheni

On Saturday we slipped from the town quay heading for Ormos Vhliko and Port Atheni.  Vhliko is 9 miles south of Lefkas and from there north coast of the island of Meganisi, where there are a host of small bays to anchor in, is only 4 or 5 miles away.    Then we planned to head south to Vathi on the island of Ithica, a mere 20 miles away.   This is the sort of cruising we hope to do when we get into the Agean again, short hops between islands only making long passages when absolutely necessary.

Leaving Lefkas Town at 11.30 we headed south through the canal which separates the island from the main land.   In fact it is only this canal across salt flats which makes Lefkas an island.   It was first dug in the 7th century BC by the Corinthians and has been in use in various forms ever since.   On leaving the canal we had a slow motor along the coast towards Ormos Vhliko.   Slow because we needed to make water as 5 days in Lefkas, where there isn’t any, had depleted our supplies.

Taverna Elena

Ormos Vhliko is a land locked bay well protected from almost all winds, not that wind was going to be an issue, there wasn’t any ……   We selected our anchor position off the village of Geni on the east side of the bay very carefully, on the basis of its proximity to a couple of tavernas.   These tavernas have their own jetties and just before the sun went down we took the tender to the nearest one and tied it up next to our table and spent a very pleasant couple of hours over a light dinner and some wine, returning to the boat to continue using their internet!

Taverna Elena with jetty, or vice versa …

On Sunday we set off at 11.30 again for the trip across to the north coast of Meganisi.  The island’s north coast is heavily indented with coves in which you can anchor but need to tie back to the shore because the water is quite deep and there is no room to swing; this is not something we’ve done before.

Captain on Deck!

In Lefkas I had purchased two 50 metre lengths of floating mooring line and had already bought two heavy lifting strops so I decided to use the windless conditions to practice with my new toys.   We headed to a bay in Porto Atheni which I knew would suit as a test site; we’d anchored here for lunch last year with our friends Graeme and Jayne in Scarlett, so it was familiar ground.    Anyway, long story short, we anchored and while Valeria BBQ’d lunch I ran my two new lines ashore in the dingy and we successfully tied back to a couple of large rocks on the shore. You wouldn’t want do this in strong winds but now I’ve had a practice I reckon we should be able to do it for real when the time comes.

Long lines ashore

So our second night of generator supported freedom was spent in silent relaxation in a delightfully tranquil bay with just three other boats for company, and none of them charter boats !!!!!!

Languishing in Lefkas

We hung around in Lakka for an extra weekend so as to arrive in Lefkas on Monday, 7 May, hoping for an engineer’s visit on Tuesday morning to assess our generator problems, until this was fixed we would be pretty much stuck in Lefkas, the last service area for a few hundred miles …… hence Languishing in Lefkas!

We had an uneventful passage from Lakka and arrived off Lefkas at about 2.45pm, as planned giving us 15 minutes to hang around waiting for the swing bridge between Lefkas and the mainland to open at 3pm.

Lefkas sunset, one of the few we saw!!

Once through the bridge our next challenge was finding somewhere to tie up.   There is a long Town Quay but it is ‘infested’ with charter boats and this early in the season there are still a lot without charterers.  Our first attempt was to anchor but the holding was dubious and there was no room to swing. We ended up tying back to what was effectively an overflow town quay on a causeway leading out of town to the swing bridge, in amongst a load of unchartered charter boats.   It transpired that although technically public by Wednesday the ‘Charter Company’ made it quite clear we were not welcome.  Rather than push the point, on Thursday, we moved to a now vacant spot on the Town Quay for the rest of our stay at €10 per night …. mercifully we didn’t need to even think about using Lefkas Marina at €82 per night!!!

The generator problem was a not simple one and we were very grateful for the attentions of the engineer from Contract Yacht Services.   Unlike Engineers from certain service companys in the UK, Panos arrived exactly when he said he would and, although it took three days of elimination, testing and phone calls to Fischer Panda in Athens, he finally identified a temperature sensor as the villain of the piece.   Prior to that he found, and replaced, a leaking exhaust hose (jubilee clip probably never tightened correctly in the first place)  and a burned out electrical connector (badly fitted originally).   Neither of which were easy to find and neither affected the original problem.   He also took the outboard and serviced that.  Not our cheapest week as we also had to fill up with diesel but we now have a generator, our tender and 400 litres of fuel so are set for a summer of anchoring in isolated, hopefully, charter boat free bays.

We did have a few evenings to kill in Lefkas and found a number of very pleasant tavernas to indulge our newly rekindled hunger for Saganaki, grilled cheese, generally accompanied by a half litre of white wine and sometimes a meal.  On two of these evenings we got caught in torrential rain showers, and so had to shelter in tavernas ….

…. see why we had to hide with a half litre of wine ….. It was terrifying ….
Lefkas main shopping street

Lefkas is far from picturesque or even quaint. One of the victims of the ’51 earthquake it is now a mixture of old buildings which survived, rebuilt ones finished in wriggly tin and new concrete ones.  There is definitely a tourist feel to the place but there is life not involving tourists.   Lefkas is a working town, heavily centred on the charter market as evidenced by the very high ‘Chandlers per Square Mile’ figure!   It is lively without being overly busy and, under less traumatic circumstances, would have made a pleasant stop over.

Lefkas Extremes. Earthquake survivor beside wriggly tin reconstruction, bathed in sunlight under a rainbow

But now, fully functional again, we are resuming our passage south. Valeria will go to the market tomorrow as I get the boat ready for sea and we plan to be away before the afternoon wind sets in!

 

My birthday in Lakka

After our swift passage to Paxos we decided to hang around for a few days and spend my birthday in Lakka.

Coincidentally we arrived exactly at ‘Pimms o’clock’

Having settled in we had a series of suprises, one nice, the others not so much.  First we discovered that some friends from Roccella were here, Jim and Karen in Mai Tai had arrived a few days earlier.  We spent an evening with them before they set off again.  That was the nice suprise.

The not so nice ones were mechanical.  The generator still won’t run properly. The leaking salt water impeller which I had fixed in Roccella was likely only the symptom and not the actual problem as it appears the exhaust cooling water is not getting through to the exhaust, causing it to over heat.  We have arranged for repairs in Lefkas but now have to annoy the anchorage every day running an engine to top up the batteries.

And being anchored, we need our Tender to get ashore. The out board engine has decided to pack up and I think it is the carburettor float valve is stuck.  Not so difficult to fix if you have the spare gaskets …… which I don’t. But we’re off to Lefkas so in the mean time I can row, having glued the rowlock back on which decided to fall off just as I needed it.

Lakka

So, my birthday started with loads of texts from friends and relatives.  I then rowed us ashore as we were in search of Paxos Olive Oil, once exclusively sold by Harrods.   We found the Olive Oilery but it was deserted and so sat and drank wine and used the WiFi at a bar over looking the anchorage for lunch.  They were only serving omlettes and toast so I decided to save my self for my birthday BBQ, and a quick turi pitta (phonetic Greek for cheese pasty) from the baker on the way to the Olive Oilery on our second attempt at a purchase.  Whilst in the bakery we asked if the lady knew when the Oilery might be open.  She pointed to a guy chatting in the street, “That’s Antonis” (the Oiler).  Don’t you just love tiny villages!  So we have 5 litres of Paxos Olive Oil!

It was then back to the boat for the Birthday BBQ; nice big home made burgers and a couple of steaks ……… and some salad, because I am so healthy ……..

At this point, under more favourable mechanical conditions we would probably have set off south again as the wind turned around to the north. However; we now needed to be in Lefkas on Monday, arriving after all the Charter boats had left. So we planned an early start on Monday. As it turned this was a good plan as the weather over the weekend worsened progressively ending up with 30 knot winds and lots of rain on Sunday night.

Lakka was a pleasant stop over for our first visit of the year.   The town is small, quaint and we could have enjoyably visited on a daily basis, outboard and weather permitting.  Maybe another visit in September as we return to Roccella?

 

Off to Lakka

We got away as planned, leaving Roccella at just after 9 on Monday 30 April, bound for Lakka, on Paxos. This was a 180 nautical miles over night passage and the winds were forecast to be generally light and mostly southerly or westerly.  Depending on our speed the passage would take between 30 hours (6 knots) and 36 hours (5 knots).

We managed to keep up a speed of well over 5.5 knots, hitting 7.5 at some points overnight with the wind behind us, and the passage took us just under 30 hours. Unfortunately to do this we needed to run both engines which will be quite expensive when we next need to take on diesel; however, the alternative was a slower passage, with 2 nights at sea or a night approach to the anchorage in Lakka. For our first voyage of the season we went for the swift, single over night passage and an afternoon arrival.

Big fish ...
Big fish ….

Highlights of the trip were lots of dolphins and our first tuna of the season. We now have an ‘I Spy Book of Dolphins’ as I figured it might be fun identifying the ones we see. No such luck, these ones, although distinctive, bore no resemblance to the pictures! More practice needed. The tuna was not only the first of the season, but our biggest ever. It weighed 2.75 kilos and gave us 1.5 kilos of tuna steaks in the freezer and a Fish Supper at sea on Monday night!

Lakka
Lakka

Arriving in, or more accurately ‘returning’ to, Lakka (we visited last year) we found it to be a bit crowded with perhaps 15 boats anchored and a charter fleet of 10 more on the town quay. There was still plenty of space for us and it is delightfully quiet and picturesque with lovely clear water. I took my customary swim to check the anchor and was pleasantly surprised to find only minimal hull fouling (not many things growing on the hull), although the propellers have attracted more growth than I’d like and I can see myself trying to clean them up while we’re here. At least the water is not too cold!

Pimms o’clock

All in all a nice relaxing start to our season! We’ll spend a few days here sampling the delights of Lakka before heading off towards Lefkas

We’re off!!

Over the last weeks of April there has been a palpable feeling of ‘leaving‘; the ‘Winter Community’ has been diminishing as boats have been leaving in dribs and drabs to start their summer cruising. Some off to the west for Scicily and Sardinia, Chris and Sue in ‘Nimrod’ heading  north to the Adriatic and Croatia and others, ourselves amongst them, heading east for Greece.

Our ‘plan’ was to leave with a favourable wind for our over night passage to Othoni, on Thursday 26 April, but …. we were still waiting for a delivery which we ordered two weeks ago.   On Friday, with only one brief period of settled weather approaching we cancelled  the order and started making plans to leave on Monday, 30 April.

Being a few days late setting off and the likelyhood of less than favourable weather conditions next weekend, we have decided to give Corfu a miss and head straight for the island of Paxos and the lovely bay of Lakka at the north of the island.  This is slightly further from Roccella than Othonoi at 180 miles so in order to arrive in daylight we’ll aim for a 6 knot voyage speed rather than 5; that should see us there by mid to late afternoon on Tuesday.   We’ll stay there for a couple of days until our next ‘fair winds’ before continuing south for Lefkas and Cephalonia.

We’re also now trying to predict where we’ll be when friends have asked to visit and it looks like we’ll be in and around Kos by the end of June to meet Lu and Sara.   We’ll visit Turkey in July and be back to Kos for August to meet Jean, Vania and Alex.

But before that we are looking forward to spending May in the Ionian before heading south around the Peloponnese for Milos, the first of the Cyclades.   Hopefully we can meet up with our friends Keith and Tracy in Cephalonia and Grahame and Jane in ‘Scarlett‘ in Kythnos.

We have been a really pleasant time in Roccella, entirely due to the people we have met and become friends with.   But now it is time to go.   And so, having just had our farewell BBQ aboard ‘Purr’ (awesome name for a Cat) hosted by our friends Charlie and Sue, and said our farewells to those still waiting for their own departures we are well and truly set to leave.

Our first visitors of the year

Rockin’ those shades

On 4th April Zilda, Elliott and Sophie came to stay with us again; their second visit.   I got the train to the airport, picked up the hire car and brought them back to Roccella.   Zilda was somewhat concerned that 8 days on the boat trying to keep Sophie and Elliott entertained and supervised might be too much of a challenge and so was researching Air B&B as a ‘Plan B’, but she needn’t have worried; Angelic Sophie and Saint Elliott were far too busy having fun exploring the castle, playing on the beach, hunting bears in the woods, enjoying ‘Movie Night’ in the Club House and playing in Windy to need much supervising.  They were even suitably tired at bed time!

Elliott has mastered looking cool in a boat …..
… and Sophie has the Royal Wave down pat !

As ever it was fantastic to see them and we look forward to their visit next year !

Florence

For our last few days in Florence we bought a pair of 3 day ‘Firenze Cards’.  These were quite expensive and so we were determined to get the maximum use of them, although I am not sure that it is actually possible to see everything worth seeing in three days, but we tried.   The challenge is that there is so much there and so little time to appreciate it all!

Palazzo Vecchio

Our guest house, Affittacamere Nel Cuore qDi Firenze, was right alongside the Palazzo Vecchio, home to the Medici family, and as such was really centrally placed for seeing the sights.

Although chilly it was really pleasant wandering around between our chosen destinations.   It was also unexpectedly crowded, in March; what it would be like in the height of the tourist season I shudder to imagine.    Florence is generally quite expensive but it is a University town so there are cheaper alternatives, the Central Market for one and near our guest house a series of ‘street food’ restaurants that sold enormous meat sandwiches.

Room of Cosimo il Vecchio
Room of Cosimo il Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling panel of the Audience Room
Ceiling panel of the Room of Cosimo il Vecchio

The Medicis originally came to Florence from a small Tuscan village, Cafaggiolo, in the 12th century and made their money in banking.  Cosimo went to work for his dad at the family bank which, by the 15th century, had branches all over Europe.   This made it the bank of choice for the Papacy; local churches could easily find a Medici Bank to pay their contributions into and get it transferred to Rome!    Early in his political career Cosimo was banished from Florence in 1434.  He left and took his bank with him, as you do.   This resulted in other financiers and artists seeking patronage following him to Venice.   His banishment lasted for all of a year after which he was asked to come back, with his bank!

Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Mural depicting Cosimo returning to Florence after being exiled for a year
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Chapel of the Priors, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Audience Chamber, Palazzo Vecchio
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Ceiling of the Audience Room
Uffizi Gallery
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Ufizzi Gallery. Four corridors lined with sculptures.
Painted ceiling in the Gallery
Adoration of the Magi – 1487 – Domenico Ghirlandaio. Ufizzio Gallery
The Holy Family with Infant St. John the Baptist, known as ‘Doni Tondo’ – 1507 – Michaelangelo. Ufizzi Galery

In 1737 the last Grand Duke of Medici descent died without an heir ending 300 years of family rule.   In that time the Medici sponsored virtually every Italian scientist, artist, architect or philosopher you have ever heard of and most of the ones you haven’t; as a result the city is pretty magnificent.

Palazzo Richardo Medici
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Chapel ceiling, Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Sala Luca Giordano, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Santa Maria Novela

Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella

Almost every building is spectacularly decorated, with a heavy emphasis on painted ceilings; we needed neck braces after three days of looking up!

Florence Cathedral, Il Duomo
Duomo main facade
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Decoration above main door of the Duomo
Dome of the Duomo
Roman mosaic beneath the Duomo

The only ‘disappointment’ was the Duomo.   Externally it is a magnificent building but internally it is relatively plain, being free should have given us a clue, and we could have given it a miss and not missed a lot.   The saving grace were the extensive Roman ruins in the crypt.   There is a Duomo Museum which is more interesting than the actual Duomo itself!

La SS Annunziata di Firenze
La SS Annunziata di Firenze – not much from the outside …
Nave

Palazzo Pitti

The Medici weren’t the only wealthy bankers in Florence.  The Pitti family were pretty well off too and had a small place, sorry palace, on the south bank of the Arno.  The Pitti and Medici were not the best of friends and the Pitti were amongst those who banished Cosimo.

Palazzo Pitti from the Giardino Boboli

Almost every room was magnificently painted with ceilings to match, each one more spectacular than the last.

Sala dell'Iliade
Sala dell’Iliade
Sala di Marte
Sala di Marte
Sala di Apollo
Sala di Apollo

This is one wall and the ceiling, painted.   The top of the wall is where the two spotlights sit.

3D painted ceiling
Santa Croce

The Church and Convent of Santa Croce was built in what was a poor area of Florence and is below the level of the River Arno; it floods dramatically, with water height reaching 5 metres or more.

Santa Croce
Tomb of Galileo, Santa Croce. The Galileo Museum has an awesome collection of old scientific instruments
Altar
Apse, behind the Altar

 

 

 

Convent of Santa Croce
Flood heights as recorded in the Cenaloco Refectory
The Academia

Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ in the Academia was magnificent.   We didn’t find the rest of the museum so impressive, but then we’re not art historians.

Michelangelo's 'David' - apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ....
Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – apparently carved from a scrap lump of marble ….

So far I think Florence was the most impressive Italian city we have visited.   Rome the most historic, Venice the most romantic (I proposed to Valeria there) and Pisa the most iconic, but Florence is the one we would definitely return to.  There is still so much to see.

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra has the reputation for being a must see destination, five quaint, picturesque villages clinging to the sheer hillside above the coast near La Spezia.   We’d sailed past this stretch of coast last year on our way from Genoa to Pisa, even anchoring overnight close by and completely missed the view from the sea and so decided to rectify the omission, by train!

Monterosso

We took the train from Florence to La Spezia, a 2 hour journey and then got the local coastal train which allows you to hop on and off at each village which are about 5 minutes apart on the train.   The five villages of Cinque Terra from west to east are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore; we started at Monterosso.

Monterosso
Monterosso

Monterosso is a large village in 2 parts; the northern end around the harbour is pretty uninspiring but a walk south from the station takes you into the older part of town.  Quaint enough but nothing to grab our imagination!

 

Vernazza

The remaining villages are fairly quaint, and have a pretty unique character but they are far from the isolated havens of picturesque tranquillity they once were or the brochures would have you believe they still are.  Certainly, Monterosso and, finally, Riomaggiore, being the closest to ‘civilisation’ are perhaps the least inspiring of the five.

Street in Corniglia

Corniglia, the central village of the 5, is perched high above the coast without its own harbour.   It is the most isolated and least spoilt of the villages and is all narrow winding streets and alleyways, which are never far from terraces with great views along the coast.

Corniglia
Coast south of Corniglia

Vernazza and Manorolo are the most colourfully painted of the  villages (think Tobermoray in Italian) and Manorolo has the most ‘interesting’ harbour.

Manorolo
Manorolo

In the case of Manorolo the term ‘harbour’ is rather ambitious.  It is more of a rock pool with a very steep slip way, and a crane to lift boats the 20 or so metres up the cliff to avoid using the slip way!

Manorolo from the ‘harbour’.

By the time we got to Riomaggiore we were well and truly Cinque Terra’d out.   That this is the least attractive of the five probably didn’t help, but again, the views were good.

Coast above Riomaggiore

Over all we were somewhat underwhelmed; but then we have seen many quaint, picturesque villages in our travels and fully admit to being spoilt.   The area is a hiking destination and there are a series of trails, totalling I think 35 km,  (all closed when we visited) along the coast linking the villages.    The advice is to spend a week in the area, with a day or so in each village to get to know each one.  I think that a good days walk with stunning views and an evening enjoying the local cuisine in a quaint fishing village is the way to see the area,  ‘binging’ all 5 in a few hours is not.   Unfortunately, for us it was a long day and a little bit of an anti climax!